Mutt Mandate?

Allow the president-elect to pick his own dog!

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Actually, that headline should read “Allow the president-elect’s daughters to pick their own dog!” but it wouldn’t fit. I hate to sound grumpy in the holiday season, but I feel very protective of Malia and Sasha Obama and their wish for a dog.

I wish it wasn’t such a big story. Just about every dog magazine or discussion group I’ve seen has asked its readers to “Vote on the breed that Obama should get!” Others are polling on the question of “Shelter dog or purebred?” (As if there were no purebreds in shelters; wouldn’t that be nice!) Celebrity trainers have weighed in. Headlines proclaim “Top Dog Will Have to Watch Step!” and “Doo the Right Thing, Obama, Forget the Dog!” When it comes to dogs – unlike the country’s economic troubles or the wars we’re fighting – it seems that everyone has advice for the next First Family.

If the Obama family still doesn’t have a dog as you read these words, good! People should take their time when choosing the next member of their family.

And consider this: Can you imagine being a dog-crazy 10-year-old girl who has been wanting, dreaming about, and working toward getting a dog for years, and suddenly having every aspect of that personal dream broadcast on every news station and newspaper in the country? For a real change, I wish the press would allow the child and whatever dog she selects to have some privacy!

“Why get so riled up about the Obama dog story?” a colleague asked me. “It’s a great opportunity to educate people about dogs.” But I don’t agree. Did the country learn anything after then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s dog, Zeke, escaped from the Governor’s Mansion and got killed by a passing car? Heck, not even the Clinton family seemed to learn anything from that! In 2002, Buddy, the Clintons’ famous chocolate Labrador, escaped through an open door from the Clintons’ home in New York, and, yes, was killed by a car. Were there any headlines that urged dog owners to keep their doors and gates secure? I doubt it.

How about the more recent story about Barney Bush, the outgoing President’s dog, who was caught on film biting a reporter? (After watching the footage on YouTube, given the dog’s behavior and that of his handler, I doubt that it was Barney’s first bite; both the dog and handler were too calm afterward, as if this sort of thing had happened before!)

Did the press rush to educate the public about the body language clues that most dogs give – like Barney did – when they are uncomfortable enough to bite a person? (If you want to learn more about this, see “Stress Signals,” Whole Dog Journal June 2006.) Did they discuss the significance of bites that break the skin, as opposed to bites in which the dog merely pinches the skin? (See “Bite Me Not,” October 2005.) Did any of the mainstream media discuss the best way to greet a dog, or how to train a dog to greet people? (See “Four on the Floor,” May 2008.) All the headlines I saw joked about the bite; none were educational.

I hope the Obamas find a lovely dog for their daughters. To help the rest of you, we’ll plan articles on how to live with dogs if you are allergic to them (like Malia Obama is), and how to help children train the family dog.

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